Brighten up your garden with red hot pokers — There are times when gardeners just want an easy-care plant that will keep on growing without any attention.
One that will outgrow any weeds, is not prone to disease and will flower in due time without any trouble. Such a plant is the hardy red-hot poker with its clumping habit and tall spires of blazing red flowers. What exactly is the red-hot poker?
Red Hot Pokers
There are two types of red hot poker and both come from South Africa. One is an aloe, the other is called Kniphofia; both are members of the lily family Liliaceae.
Their flower spikes are very attractive to birds that like nectar, so they will attract these kinds of birds to the garden – another great benefit. Hummingbirds especially, love red-hot pokers.
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These red-hot pokers are the ones usually seen in Australian gardens. While they can be grown as potted plants, they are best if grown in the garden – preferring hot to temperate climates. In the US they are hardy in zones USDA 5-10.
They can be used to create a strong statement in the garden with well-defined clumps of strappy leaves and those tall spikes of brilliantly colored flowers rising above them.
Traditionally, red-hot pokers – the Kniphofia variety – flowered around Christmas time, but now winter or autumn-flowering ones are available. They also come in colors apart from red; green, yellow, orange, white or combinations. There are different sizes, too; dwarf red-hot pokers can be from 2ft (60cm) to huge plants reaching around 6ft (2m).
These hardy plants will flower in sun or part shade and need not be moved from their position. In fact, once a big clump is established it could be difficult to move. They like well-drained soil and pretty much the only thing that will hurt them is crown rot, due to soil that is not well-drained. They can be dead-headed to encourage a longer blooming time.
Aloe or Torch Plant
Aloes also vary in height though most of them do not grow quite as tall as the tallest kniphofias. They are even hardier than their cousins and will grow almost anywhere they are planted, except in full shade. They are particularly suited to arid or semi-arid climates and thrive on a dry, hot hillside. However, they should be protected from severe frost.
The most striking plant of out of the 300 or so varieties is the torch plant or candelabra aloe. Its botanical name is the Aloe arborescens. It has tall spikes of scarlet, tubular flowers that grow up to 6ft – one of the few that grows as tall as the tallest kniphofias.
It is not possible to buy the rarest of the aloes – or if they are available they may cost hundreds of dollars. The more common ones are usually available for just a few dollars.
Sometimes people mix these two types of the plant up and call each one interchangeably red-hot poker, poker plant, torch plant or even tritoma.